This beef barbacoa recipe is the ultimate combination of juicy and tender slow-cooked beef with the most delicious spices and seasonings. Pile it onto tortillas or stuff in burritos, quesadillas, gorditas, and more!
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Barbacoa is known for its melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich flavors. With its tender and succulent beef, fragrant spices, and aromatic sauce, barbacoa is always a big crowd-pleaser at my house.
It’s fairly easy to make and makes amazing leftovers, which is perfect for eating in different dishes throughout the week.
The slow cooking process (either in a slow cooker, oven, or Instant Pot) ensures that the beef becomes incredibly tender, allowing it to fall apart easily with a fork. The meat absorbs the flavors of the sauce, resulting in a depth of taste that is simply irresistible.
What is Barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that consists of slow-cooked meat, often beef, goat, or lamb, that’s seasoned with lots of spices, aromatic herbs, and chiles to create the ultimate flavorful melt-in-your-mouth meat. The meat is incredibly tender and can be easily shredded, making it the perfect filling for tacos, gorditas, burritos, salads, and more.
- Beef chuck roast: I recommend using chuck roast for the fat amount and how well it tenderizes, but you can also use rump roast.
- Garlic and onion: Staple ingredients that add more depth of flavor.
- Spices and bay leaves: I used a combination of ancho chili powder, chili powder, cumin, oregano, ground cloves, and 2 bay leaves.
- Chipotle peppers: I used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a slightly smoky flavor and to add some spice. You can use 2 chipotle peppers instead of 4 if you’re sensitive to heat.
- Lime juice and apple cider vinegar: These ingredients add acid and help break down and tenderize the beef even more.
- Beer: I recommend using a dark lager or a dark Mexican beer. It adds a really great flavor that compliments the chile peppers! If you don’t want to use beer, you can use beef broth or water instead.
How to Make Barbacoa
Step 1: Start by cutting the beef into large 4-inch chunks and seasoning them generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper on all sides.
Step 2: In a large skillet, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add 3 or 4 pieces of meat and brown it on all sides. When browned, transfer to a plate and set aside. Continue working in batches until all the meat is all browned.
Step 3: In the same skillet, place onions and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, making sure to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
Step 4: Add the beer, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, all the spices, and bay leaves. Stir together to combine and remove it from the heat.
Step 5: Add the seared meat into a large slow cooker and pour the liquid mixture on top. Toss everything to combine, then cover it, and cook on slow cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 5 hours).
The recipe card below includes instructions for making barbacoa in the slow cooker, oven, and Instant Pot.
Step 6: Transfer the meat to a large plate or bowl to shred it with two forks. The meat should be fall-apart tender.
Step 7: Add the shredded beef back into the slow cooker and let it sit for 10 minutes to soak up all the juices. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.
Step 9– Serve immediately and enjoy!
I love using barbacoa as a filling in these dishes:
- Tacos: Barbacoa is commonly served in warm corn tortillas as a filling for tacos. Top with your favorite taco fixings, such as diced onions, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice for a burst of freshness.
- Burritos: Wrap the flavorful Barbacoa in a large tortilla with some rice, beans, and other toppings of your choice to make a delicious and satisfying burrito.
- Bowls: Create a flavorful bowl by layering Barbacoa over a bed of rice or quinoa and top it with beans, shredded lettuce, avocado, and a drizzle of salsa for a hearty lunch or dinner.
- Nachos: Barbacoa makes a fantastic topping for loaded nachos. Spread tortilla chips on a baking sheet, layer with Barbacoa, cheese, beans, and other desired toppings, and bake until melted and bubbly for a crowd-pleasing appetizer or game-day snack.
- Other uses: Serve it in gorditas, huaraches, sopes, and enchiladas!
Instant Pot and Oven Method
While I recommend using a slow cooker to get super juicy and tender barbacoa, you can also use an oven or pressure cooker!
You can find both oven and pressure cooker instructions in the recipe card below under Isabel’s Tips.
Storing and Reheating
To store, place the barbacoa in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months in a freezer-safe container.
To reheat, heat it in a large skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes until warmed. You can also reheat it in the microwave for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until fully warmed through.